The healthy digestion of food is crucial for your dog’s continued health. If digestion is impeded in any way the body may not be able to use the nutrients from food to obtain energy or build and repair tissues throughout the body. Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and disease affect the stomach and intestines of your dog resulting in reduced digestion or absorption of food. GI disorders can also lead to dehydration, acid-base and electrolyte imbalances, or even malnutrition when left untreated. So it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms of GI disease and consult your veterinarian for treatment advice.
Types & Causes of GI Disease
There are many different types of digestive disorders which could affect your dog and causes of each can vary widely. In addition, some breeds such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Collies, are more prone to particular GI problems. Commonly diagnosed conditions include:
- Acute Gastroenteritis The inflammation or infection of the GI tracts, primarily the stomach and intestines. This condition is typically short-term and caused by ingestion of spoiled or rancid food, eating human food that is high in fat, swallowing foreign objects, eating toxic plants, internal parasites, stress, or food allergies.
- Colitis Acute or chronic inflammation of the membrane lining of the colon. It is most often caused by whipworms, tumors or polyps in the GI tract, a change in diet, allergies (food or otherwise), swallowed foreign objects, or other diseases. It is more frequently seen among under five years of age and other symptoms include frequent, painful stools or diarrhea.
- Constipation A reduced ability to pass feces, constipation in dogs can have varied causes including lack of exercise, dehydration and eating indigestible materials or low fiber foods.
- Diarrhea Loose or watery stools that may be painful to pass, diarrhea can by caused by infections, internal parasites, stress, a change in diet, organ dysfunction, and ingesting table scraps, rich snacks, or spoiled food.
- Pancreatitis Inflammation or infection of the pancreas, the cause of pancreatitis is usually unknown though eating foods high in fat, infections, disease or trauma are thought to be related.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency This is the body’s inability to properly digest food due to a lack of digestive enzymes in the body and is characterized by weight loss, increased appetite and large amounts of soft feces.
- Small Intestine Malabsorption Inflammation of the small intestine which impairs nutrient absorption resulting in persistent diarrhea, weight loss and loss of appetite.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common sign of a GI disorder in dogs is soft stool or diarrhea. However, other symptoms may appear as well, including:
- Flatulence or bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Blood or mucus in feces
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss
- Weakness or lethargy
Chronic GI disease can be a debilitating problem for your dog and will require attention from a veterinary professional. In order to determine the cause of your dog’s discomfort, your vet will run a number of tests before developing a treatment plan.
While digestive disorders are quite common among dogs and most clear up on their own within a few days, others will require long-term care and management. Your dog’s food and diet can have a substantial impact on the health of his GI tract. Depending on your dog’s particular disorder, there are a number of nutritional approaches that your vet may recommend.
Throughout your dog’s recovery, it is important to monitor his hydration and correct any fluid deficiencies.The primary goal is to alleviate your dog’s symptoms so your vet may suggest switching your dog’s diet to foods that are easily digested, such as boiled chicken and white rice, in order to prevent irritation of the stomach and intestines. High-soluble and insoluble fiber foods combined with moderate levels of fat may also help support proper functioning of your dog’s intestines.
Generally speaking, gastrointestinal diseases are treatable and manageable with the help of your veterinarian. Together, you will be able to find the cause of your dog’s distress and correct any problems. Chronic conditions can be managed with few complications or disruptions to your dog’s daily life. Dogs with these conditions are expected to have a normal life span, as long as there is compliance with the veterinarian’s instructions and treatment continues.